Effects of fish oil supplementation in rheumatoid arthritis.

van der Tempel H, Tulleken JE, Limburg PC, Muskiet FA, van Rijswijk MH.
Department of Rheumatology, State University Groningen, The Netherlands.

Sixteen patients with rheumatoid arthritis entered a trial to determine the clinical and biochemical effects of dietary supplementation with fractionated fish oil fatty acids. A randomised, double blind, placebo controlled crossover design with 12 week treatment periods was used. Treatment with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and with disease modifying drugs was continued throughout the study. Placebo consisted of fractionated coconut oil. The following results favoured fish oil rather than placebo: joint swelling index and duration of early morning stiffness. Other clinical indices improved but did not reach statistical significance. During fish oil supplementation relative amounts of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid in the plasma cholesterol ester and neutrophil membrane phospholipid fractions increased, mainly at the expense of the omega-6 fatty acids. The mean neutrophil leucotriene B4 production in vitro showed a reduction after 12 weeks of fish oil supplementation. Leucotriene B5 production, which could not be detected either in the control or in the placebo period, rose to substantial quantities during fish oil treatment. This study shows that dietary fish oil supplementation is effective in suppressing clinical symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.